Meet & Greet with Chikondi Mpokosa
February 22, 2018 // by Heather Kaczrowski
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to interview Chikondi Mpokosa, our new Programme Director for Women & Girls, when she was in our Chicago office during a whirlwind trip to the U.S. A few things about Chikondi: she was born and raised in Malawi, and she has worked in nearly 20 countries around the world doing development work, advocating on behalf of women and girls, especially with regards to gender equality and education. She has worked for organizations such as the Malala Fund, Oxfam, Unicef, and now is excited to begin working at Opportunity to make our work some of the best in the world. Here’s what we discussed!
Heather: Hi Chikondi! Let’s start with something foundational: why is it important to address barriers to women?
Chikondi: I do really think that sometimes we underestimate what women face and the challenges they go through. We need to understand the barriers that women face in their day-to-day lives and their journey out of poverty. We need to get women included in the formal economy—right now they’re doing more and more unpaid work. For example, if you look at what’s happening on the farms; when women work it is not counted as something that should earn them money, it’s considered their role. So we have to look at all of that.
Can you tell us about three significant challenges you would like to address?
It is very critical and significant for us to work on improving the economic and social empowerment of women and help them get skills that will help them earn wages—beauty skills, catering skills, fashion design, electrical skills, whatever it is—so they can earn a living. We would like to see more and more women participate in economic activity. So that is a big thing we want to be even more intentional about. The other thing we want to look at is strengthening women’s voices. How do we get them to articulate their needs? How do we give value to those needs? How do we make sure they participate at the household level, community level, society level, and even at the industry level? We are including women when we design, implement, and evaluate programs and projects. We need their feedback to know what’s working and what’s not. Let’s strengthen their voices and their participation so we can make sure we get more and more information to improve programs. We need to be able to capture information and use it for things like analyzing loan sizes. Who gets a larger loan between a man and a woman, and why? We need to have a better understanding of whether and how we should serve women and men differently.
It’s fascinating how rare it is in the development space to collect and analyze gender-disaggregated data. Currently, we don’t even know how many women are living on under $2 a day. It’s just inconsistent data that the industry doesn’t have. So, having that will be so important to our work to really understand the exact areas where women may be falling through the gaps, and then use that data to inform how they can be better participants and be empowered in their households and communities.
Chikondi, do you think women-centered efforts also help men? What is the role of men in supporting this?
We get that question a lot from people we’ve been working and interacting with. I want to say this clearly: the women-inclusive approach is not excluding men. If a man says he would like a loan to improve his farm, we will definitely work with him, and we will also ask how he works with women on his farm to empower them.
I would like to see women lead the development for women, but we also have to remember the role men can play in all this.
For example, working in Education Finance, we need to better address the barriers that are affecting girls’ education—their inability to access education, inability to enroll, inability to stay in school. But we want both boys and girls to receive quality education. We recognize that boys need male role models in their own classrooms in the form of male teachers. It’s important to recruit male teachers so the boys and the girls understand the concept of gender equality at a young age, so they both know they can be whatever they want to be when they grow up.
It’s all about equality. Making sure every child that is born male or female has the same access to opportunities and can see their future in same exact way.
I know throughout your career you’ve worked with women and girls all around the world, so I’d love if you could share a couple of your favorite stories of clients on their journeys out of poverty.
Yes, I have numerous stories! One of the stories that I could talk about is the work I have been able to do with boys and girls in the streets of Malawi. I was working with children on the streets and what I had noticed was that girls between 9 and 12 years old were sexually abused on the streets by very rich men. Men would pick them up in their cars and zoom away with them. And I am thinking, how can I end that abuse? So I worked with the police in Lanta. I stood on the streets looking for these men, and when one would come, we would follow the car. We got a presidential announcement saying any person found abusing girls on the street should be apprehended and brought to justice.
I meet some of these girls and now they are now grown up and have their own families. They are doing very well. When I go back they shout, “Auntie Chikondi, have you remembered me?” Of course I remember them! It is a great moment for me to see that what I was doing 10-15 years ago has paid off, that there are now some people who are being held responsible for that abuse, and that the girls have grown up. It is possible for us to help them get out of poverty and out of the abuse. While traveling for work, I have seen so many stories. I can talk about so many women that have made their way out of poverty and are now running businesses in Uganda and India and in Malawi. I have seen so many girls who have been able to go on to change their lives.
That is so fulfilling to go back and see the impact you had. I hope in these next few years, as we build up the Women and Girls program, that you can see even more of the impact of targeting specific solutions for girls and the challenges they face.
This will be the very first full year of our Women and Girls program. I’d love to know what you are looking forward to accomplishing this year.
I think that we are doing already a great work within Opportunity. I’m looking at how I can make the existing programs work better for women and girls. So that’s the starting point. We are going to be saying—let’s unpack what’s hurting or hindering women within what we have been doing, and let’s see how we can make it work better for them. We need to look at the barriers and find better ways to offer alternatives. We will be looking at inclusive development in the design, implementation, and evaluation of programs. We alone will not be able to bring change to all the countries in the world, but with our partners we can. And we should capture information that relates to women, how we are working with them, what the impact of the programs is on them, and then analyze it and say how are we going to put changes in place. I think that is going to keep me busy!
We are excited to have you on board, Chikondi—you bring clarity and intentionality to our work and are making it better and more impactful for women and girls around the world.
Chikondi Mpokosa is Opportunity International's Programme Director for Women & Girls. Heather Kaczrowski is a grant writer for Opportunity International.